More than 25 police officers and deputies from five different law enforcement agencies recently weathered the fog to attend a unique safety training called a BE SAFE Interactive Screening in Portland, IN.
At the community event each peace officer was paired with a teen or adult guest with autism, another developmental disability, or a similar special need. The officers and guests had the chance to get to know and learn from one another. Parents, advocates and agency staff enjoyed watching the teen and adult guests warm up and engage with their police partners.
The goal of the BE SAFE Interactive Screening is to create mutual understanding and improve safety for everyone involved. The audience watched scenes from the BE SAFE The Movie, an educational DVD made by and for young adults with disabilities. After each scene members of the audience did fun activities that teach key lessons, like “Follow the law to be safe,” and “When the police tell you do so something, just do it.” Who better to teach guests how to interact safely with police than deputies and officers themselves?
Officers got to meet individuals with disabilities in the community they serve and build trust. They could see and adapt to their partners’ communication and learning style. Officers gained insight and empathy, preparing them for a future encounter.
Most of the young adults with disabilities who attended the event had never met a peace officer before. The Interactive Screening gave them the opportunity to practice important skills like asking for help. They promised to never reach into a pocket or bag so police can always see their hands. Guests learned about tools of the police and the boundary was set: do not touch the police or their equipment.
Many guests were fascinated by handcuffs. Handcuffs are not only used in an arrest, the police sometimes use handcuffs to help someone calm down. For this reason guests had the chance to try on handcuffs and get a sense of how it feels. The handcuff activity was exciting for them. What they might not have realized is that it helped them understand a multi-step process and practice following directions from the police. This practice ca help them be calm and cooperative if this scenario ever happens in real life.
A BE SAFE Interactive Screening is about creating relationships and building skills to improve outcomes in police encounters. It was easy to see that wonderful things were happening between the officers and guests. Event organizer David Rees of Jay Randolph Developmental Services said the Interactive Screening “exceeded his expectations.”
Sgt. Joshua L. Stephenson of the Portland Police Department said, “We as police officers normally do not get this type of hands-on experience with those with autism let alone anyone with any type of disability. I can truly see how this type of training is beneficial not only to us as police officers but also those with special needs.” One young man shared the highlight of the night for him: “I got to sit next to a police officer.” That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?
In the photo, Portland Police Chief Nathan Springer and BE SAFE Interactive Screening guest Cindy practice asking for help. The energy and level of engagement in the room shows in the faces of everyone pictured. For more information contact Emily Iland, emily@BeSafeTheMovie.com